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Older people with vision trouble have an increased risk of early death

A new study published Thursday in JAMA Ophthalmology takes a closer look at why people who start to have problems with their vision as they get older are more likely to die sooner than those who can see clearly.

Researchers looked at data that tracked the vision and health of people between the ages of 65 and 84 who lived in Salisbury, Maryland, from 1993 to 2003. They found that problems with sight didn't directly predict an increased risk of death, but it did make it harder for people to do housework, manage money, and live on their own. Researchers say those who lose the ability to see one letter on an eye chart per year had a 16 percent increase in mortality risk over eight years, because they no longer had their independent living abilities.

"An individual who's remaining relatively stable in their visual acuity in their older years is not seeing this subsequent difficulty in functionality," Sharon Christ, the study's lead author, told NPR. Researchers looked to see if other factors, including race, sex, alcohol use, obesity, and smoking could cause the increased mortality risk, but found that the correlation between vision loss and everyday activities was the strongest.

Prevention, of course, is key. "It's really important to deal with impairment and make sure you're getting the eye care that you need," Christ said.